NAB has admitted to keeping the full figure of how much it would have to repay superannuation customers from regulator ASIC until after it released its annual profit result.
The royal commission heard on Monday that NAB senior executive Andrew Hagger thought he was acting “in the ongoing interests of openness and transparency” when he called ASIC officer Greg Tanzer on October 24, 2016, to tell him the bank was due to repay clients $12.4 million over fees-for-no-service on super fund accounts.
But prior to the phone call, Mr Hagger had been in a board meeting for a NAB subsidiary that had decided it would, in fact, have to repay the much larger figure of $34.6 million to customers.
Earlier, NAB communications strategists had recommended the bank keep full details of the upcoming remediation from the regulator. CEO Andrew Thorburn supported the decision.
“At this stage, having seen the report, our thinking is to be reactive from a communications perspective given, as drafted, NAB is seen as just one ‘in the pack’ rather than called out as an outlier,” documents presented to the royal commission showed.
Reporting a figure of only $12.4 million to ASIC had the effect of keeping the bank at similar levels to competitors that were also due to report similar breaches in October.
“You believed that if you … came out at more that $30 million, you would no longer be in the middle of the pack?” counsel assisting Michael Hodge QC asked.
Mr Hagger agreed that, when the strategy was adopted, it was decided that admitting to the full $34.6 million would have made NAB “the worst of the banks”.
NAB documents showed that Mr Hagger told Mr Tanzer over the phone that “we’re waiting on the boards to resolve these things”, in reference to the amount NAB would have to remediate customers, and did not tell him the full amount.
Mr Hagger described that as taking action “to open the door widely, which was very wide” and left it for ASIC to ask further questions. However, the details that would trigger such questions were not given.
“He [Mr Tanzer] could have, for example, said to you, ‘have you just stepped out of a board meeting where [NAB] has already resolved full remediation?’,” Mr Hodge said.
“By telling him ‘we’re waiting on the boards to resolve these things’ when in fact you knew [NAB] had already resolved on it.”
Mr Hagger replied: “I was happy to be open and transparent overall.”
Commissioner Kenneth Hayne intervened on hearing Mr Hagger’s claims of openness and transparency, saying: “That’s rather different from what you earlier described. What you said was, we decided we should call Tanzer or [ASIC deputy Peter] Kell, open the door and that then put it [details of full remediation] out of our hands?”
Despite the evidence on keeping the full details from ASIC, Mr Hagger described his phone call to Mr Tanzer as “a proactive and positive communication with ASIC”.
NAB reported its profit result on October 27, 2016, and ASIC released its list of upcoming bank remediations with NAB at $12.4 million. Full details were released later.